BELLOWS FALLS -- When Rockingham Development Director Francis "Dutch" Walsh walked through the Town Clerk's Office four years ago, he was surprised to notice a woman sitting at her desk with her head down in frustration.
It was Town Clerk Doreen Aldrich.
Walsh asked her what was wrong and Aldrich, the president of the Bellows Falls Rotary Club at the time, said she needed to think of a creative fundraising idea for the club. For Walsh, a paddling enthusiast and lifelong resident of the Connecticut River Valley, the choice was clear -- a canoe/kayak race along the river.
That friendly suggestion has since grown into the Connecticut River Paddle Battle and attracts canoeists and kayakers of all ability levels from across New England. Walsh, about to assume the town's interim municipal manager position at that time, attended the Rotary Club's first few organizational meetings to help get things started.
The fourth-annual event is slated for Herrick's Cove on Sunday, Sept. 23.
"I thought it was pretty logical because we don't use the river enough," he said on Friday. "I'm glad it's taken off because it's a great event."
Aldrich, who has been succeeded as Rotary Club president by Eric Anderson, said she liked the idea as soon as she heard it and the event helps a scholarship fund for local high school graduating seniors.
"It just gets better every year," she said. "It's kind of both recreational and
Rotarian Ed Dinneay said the course will span seven-and-a-half miles, as participates will start paddling downstream before turning into the Williams River Delta and then reversing their direction at the Bellows Falls hydroelectric dam. There will be a separate two-mile recreational course for those who just want to have some fun. Though it will start at the same spot, the race will be marked differently.
Registration for the Paddle Battle lasts from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. the day of the event. The race will begin at 11 a.m. Anyone interested can register online at www.ctpaddlebattle.com. The fee is $20, which includes the barbecue after the race.
For the more serious competitors, the race counts toward New England Canoe and Kayak Racing Association (NECKRA) points, which are used to determine rankings.
Rotarian Ryan Ostebo said though only one Paddle Battle race will take place, there will be several categories such as men's singles, women's singles, mixed doubles and juveniles. He said the winner of each category will receive $25 and a handmade trophy. There will also be two eight-rower shells from Vermont Academy, though they will be allowed to take off a little earlier than the other participants.
"It's a great way to promote Bellows Falls from outside to appreciate the village," he said. "It's a means of helping the village and spreading the word that there are many things about it that are enjoyable."
He said there will be food such as hamburgers and hot dogs for purchase and the Main Street Arts String Band will perform live music.
"It's a nice thing for families," Ostebo said.
Walsh said his love for paddle sports was instilled in him by his father, also named Francis, who attended Dartmouth College on the GI Bill in the 1940s. Walsh said his dad built a canoe with his roommate and paddled the Connecticut from Dartmouth to Long Island Sound in 1948. It became a family affair long before the son Walsh was even born, as the roommate, Neil Callahan, eventually became his uncle.
"(The event) just keeps growing larger," he said. "If you can't enjoy the Connecticut River, you must be living somewhere else."
Dinneay, who has paddled the Adirondack Canoe Classic, a 90-mile, three-day canoe race, said the Paddle Battle helps the local economy, as many people stay overnight and go out to restaurants.
He said there is a wide age gap of participants and the weather has always cooperated in the past. He said TransCanada, which owns much of the surrounding land, maintains very good water levels.
"We have a gorgeous resource here in Bellows Falls. Herrick's Cove is beautiful," he said. "It's a perfect location for the Paddle Battle."
Domenic Poli can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.